“We see this great opportunity between the smaller and the casual games that you see on mobile and the big Triple A budgets,” Ian Vogel told his audience during Casual Connect USA 2014. “There’s a huge market in the middle which I think is very exciting to me as a gamer and to me as a business person.”
Ian Vogel has been creating games for the past sixteen years, including work on Age of Empires Online, Bioshock, System Shock 2, Swat 4, and Thief: The Dark Project. He has held key roles at Microsoft Game Studios, Irrational Games, Airtight Games, and Looking Glass Studios.
Learning the Ropes
Recently, he was promoted to Studio Head at Amazon Game Studios, where he leads first-party game development and is focused on giving players fun, innovative experiences. He insists that he could not be in this position if he had not started out as a designer, and he feels fortunate to have begun his career working with Doug Church, Tom Leonard, Ken Levine, Jon Chey, and the others at Looking Glass Studios and Irrational Games. He emphasizes, “Building a lot of games over time, killing some, and succeeding and failing along the way – It makes for some tough skin.” He sees this as good for consumers because developers focus less on how incredible, amazing, and infallible their idea is and instead learn to look at it through the consumers’ eyes. What are they going to feel? Where will they be confused? Where will they be frustrated? He insists, “You need some wins and losses to get good at that. I’m still learning!”
Vogel gains the most enjoyment in the games industry through seeing the impact his work has on people. He talks about an incident that occurred when he went to GameStop after Bioshock was released.
“There were 3-5 enthusiasts talking about the game, and I asked them ‘What do you like and not like about the game?’ About 45 minutes later, they had told me everything they loved and hated about the game, and loudly and emphatically asserted ‘You must buy this game!’ Which I did. And I left the store never having told them I worked on Bioshock for two or three years; it was immensely gratifying to listen to them appreciate the craft of the game and talk of deep personal experiences in that world. I didn’t need to talk about myself, that day was about them. And it made my day, and is a great example of why I do what I do.”
He reveals that being promoted to Studio Head at Amazon Game Studios has been very gratifying and a challenge he is eager to take on. He has always had opinions on how to do things, and this position is his opportunity to put them into practice. “Amazon is full of intense, brilliant people so it will be a heck of a ride,” he says.
Competing For Time
The biggest challenge Vogel sees in the games industry today is the competition for people’s time. There are hundreds of great indie games, too many copycats, and expensive, but intriguing console titles, all clamoring for attention. It becomes harder and harder for a game to actually make money. He points to the many lay-offs in recent years, with very talented studios and people gone. He would love to see the industry solve the problem of discovery and get interesting games in front of the people who want them, at a regular, dependable pace. He notes, “The barriers to succeeding at either mobile or console get higher every year. We have to help games find their audience.”
But Vogel sees a huge opportunity in the middle space, between casual/mobile games and AAA console titles. Indies are venturing into this space, but he believes there are markets we don’t know about that are looking for smaller, crafted games in that middle space. He emphasizes the need to understand this market and be ready with good titles when the opportunity arises.
Virtual Reality, Micro Consoles, and Hardware
For the future of the industry in the next few years, he is interested in the possibilities of VR, but needs more experience to understand the ups and downs of the tech. He also likes the trend to micro consoles; he thinks they are great products and looks forward to exciting possibilities as the hardware ramps up. He believes procedural games like No Man’s Sky and similar efforts will drive the potential for smaller teams to make bigger games. If that can be done at reasonable prices, the games industry will grow even more than it has in the past.
Vogel is an eclectic gamer, using every variety of device and game. He plays FTL and 10,000,000 on his iPad when he wants an engrossing but snackable experience. When he wants to sit down after dinner and play a game, he plays Badland or Double Dragon on his Fire TV. For a few hours of concentrated play, he uses his Xbox 360 to play NHL games, Skyrim, Fallout New Vegas, or Demon Souls. But when he is looking for a total forfeiture of normal life and 13 hours of getting lost in a different world, he plays XCOM, Civilization, and (he hopes) upcoming space sims, like Star Citizen and Elite.
He believes exposure to different experiences, different art forms, and other cultures of the world would make everyone better creators, so travel is extremely important to him. Some of the interesting places he has visited are Istanbul, Romania, Paris, and Fiji. One of the art forms he immerses himself in is music. He plays and records music on bass and guitar. One of his bands, The Model Sons, was on the original Guitar Hero. He also sails, hikes, and takes improv comedy classes.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.